New chemicals for control under POPs Convention
Geneva, 2 November 2005 – An international scientific committee will hold its first meeting here next week, from 7 – 11 November, to determine whether five new candidates satisfy the criteria for joining the initial list of 12 toxic chemicals targeted for reduction or elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
“This meeting launches the next phase in the global campaign to rid the world of dangerous POPs,” said Reiner Arndt, the committee chairman. “A rigorous scientific assessment of these five substances will allow policymakers to reach informed decisions on chemicals that would demand international action.”
The POPs Review Committee must evaluate whether each candidate meets the screening criteria set out by the Convention. The upcoming Geneva meeting will take the first steps to determine whether the chemicals are indeed POPs – that they persist in the environment, bio-accumulate in people and animals, travel long distances from their point of release and are toxic to human health and the environment.
The next steps will be to develop a risk profile for each POP based on information to be provided by Governments and non-governmental organizations as well as other stakeholders. Then the Committee must determine whether global action is required and, if so, whether each chemical should be banned or restricted and whether any specific exemptions should be permitted. Its final conclusions – which it will take two or three years to develop – will be forwarded to the conference of the Convention’s member governments for a formal decision.
The first five proposals for adding new chemicals to the POPs list are the following:
• The European Union and its member states propose banning the pesticide chlordecone. This synthetic chlorinated organic compound has been identified as a POP under the POPs protocol to the UNECE’s Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. The EU also argues that it is chemically very similar to mirex, an organochlorine pesticide already listed in the Stockholm Convention.
• The EU and its member states also urge a ban on hexabromobiphenyl, a flame retardant used in synthetic fibres and plastics. In addition to meeting all the POPs criteria, the EU states that the chemical is a possible human carcinogen and may also disrupt the human endocrine system.
• Mexico is nominating the pesticide lindane together with a related group of chemicals known as hexachlorocyclohexanes. It explains that producing the 99%-pure gamma hexachlorocyclohexane needed for every ton of lindane results in six to ten tons of unusable isomers. The resulting waste-isomer problem compounds the risks posed by lindane itself.
• Norway is recommending that the flame retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether be listed. It argues that this chemical, which is already targeted for elimination by the Nordic countries and the EU, is a dangerous POP and that alternative chemicals and techniques exist for most of its uses.
• Sweden proposes listing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). This chemical compound is used in a wide variety of industrial applications and products, including in textiles and leather products, metal plating, food packaging, fire-fighting foams, floor polishes, denture cleansers, shampoos, coatings and coating additives, in the photographic and photolithographic industry, and in hydraulic fluids in the aviation industry. The problem, argues Sweden, is that PFOS is extremely persistent, can be transported long distances through the air and is associated with serious harmful effects in mammals and aquatic organisms.
The 12 initial POPs covered by the Stockholm Convention include nine pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex and toxaphene); two industrial chemicals (PCBs as well as hexachlorobenzene, also used as a pesticide); and unintentional by-products, most importantly dioxins and furans.
These chemicals can kill people, damage the nervous and immune systems, cause cancer and reproductive disorders and interfere with normal infant and child development. While the risk level varies from POP to POP, they all share four properties: they are highly toxic; they are stable and persistent, lasting for years or decades before degrading into less dangerous forms; they evaporate and travel long distances through the air and through water; and they accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to POPs. The problem is that high costs, a lack of public awareness, and the absence of appropriate infrastructure and technology have often prevented their adoption. Solutions must be tailored to the specific properties and uses of each chemical and to each country's climatic and socio-economic conditions.
The POPs Review Committee is composed of experts from 31 countries across the globe. Designated by governments for two- or four-year terms, these scientists are drawn from the civil service, academia and non-governmental organizations. The second meeting of the Committee will be held in Geneva in late 2006.
The second meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP 2) will be held in Geneva from 1 – 5 May 2006.
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